One can rarely think of Idaho without automatically picturing mountains, rivers, forests and wildlife. Core to the state’s identity, many Idahoans can tell stories about their experiences with wilderness — whether through recreation, political involvement or conservation.
“Idaho Wilderness Considered” is a compilation from leading Idaho and environmental authors as a capstone to the Idaho Humanities Council’s 2014 reading-and-conversation series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
This enjoyable, easy-to-read book brings together essays about personal experiences, legislative history and people to explore the past, present and future legacies of Idaho’s wilderness. As the editors note, “Wilderness in Idaho has shaped political campaigns, influenced settlement and infused the character of the state’s residents. Each essay is a different perspective about the ideologies, values and histories of why the wilderness is essential and discusses politics, legislation, fishing, camping, hunting, wildlife, Native Americans, mining, forestry, land, geography, geology, living and other topics.”
This list of authors includes many familiar names, including the Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker, who compares wilderness and wildness; Bert Bowler, who reminisces about his conservationist father, Bruce; Idaho Conservation League leader Rick Johnson, who interviews former Idaho Gov. and Interior secretary Cecil D. Andrus; and BSU environmental historian Lisa M. Brady, who reflects on the importance of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
John Freemuth, executive director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State, points out that “‘wilderness’ or ‘the wild’ are human constructs.” This humanization comes through as each essay expresses a deep personal connection to and definition of the wilderness. While some may describe it as spiritual, it is also a bond that demonstrates each author’s passion and dedication to his or her work with the wilderness. For the authors, it is about not just preservation, but also what they can learn about and from the wilderness.
The book’s dedication states that it is “For those who have worked for, and those who continue to preserve, an enduring resource of Idaho wilderness.” To that extent, this book is about people: activists, legislators, recreationists, employees, and appreciators. There are the icons and common names associated with preserving wilderness, like Andrus, Bowler, Frank Church, Gracie Pfost, Ernie Day, Ted Trueblood and others. But it is also about the people who explore, appreciate, worship, love and live for the wilderness.
The Idaho Humanities Council’s reading-and-conversation series was “an important opportunity to consider wilderness deeply and deliberately in the specific context of Idaho,” editors Murray Feldman, a Boise environmental attorney, and Jennifer Emery Davidson, director of the Ketchum Community Library, wrote in the foreword. This book reflects that they clearly accomplished that goal and also shows that the relationship between Idaho, the wilderness and the people is ever evolving.
Cheryl Oestreicher is head of Special Collections and Archives at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.